THE High Court has issued an interim order barring the government from instituting any disciplinary action against Lesotho’s diplomatic counsellor in Ethiopia, Thato Sibolla, for alleged misconduct.
Justice Maliepollo Makhetha ruled that the government could not initiate a disciplinary process against Ms Sibolla without having reacted to her grievances. This after she had allegedly disregarded instructions to move into a residence contracted for her by the Lesotho Embassy in Addis Ababa on 27 January, 2023.
Ms Sibolla, who was a key witness in the high profile June 2017 murder case of former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s estranged wife, Lipolelo Thabane, landed a lucrative diplomatic job as Lesotho’s consular officer in Pretoria in March 2021. The appointment was shrouded in controversy with some people saying it was an attempt by government to silence her. She was in the company of Lipolelo before the latter was brutally murdered just before Mr Thabane’s inauguration as prime minister.
Ms Sibolla was in October last year promoted to the position of counsellor at Lesotho’s mission in Ethiopia.
In her court papers, Ms Sibolla says upon her arrival in Addis Ababa, she was supposed to move into a house used by the previous counsellor. Its lease, however, was ending in December 2022.
She says she was then asked by Minister Counsellor in Ethiopia, Monapathi Makara, to find new accommodation to occupy with effect from January this year. She did this and everything was agreed on between her, the new landlady and Dr Makara, she says.
But to her surprise, she subsequently realised that the embassy had not signed a sub-lease agreement apparently because the new landlady wanted to be paid in US dollars and not in Ethiopian currency.
“That was not a justifiable impediment to the signing of the sub-lease agreement, as it was possible to make payment directly in foreign currency,” she states in her court action in which Foreign Affairs and International Relations ministry principal secretary (PS), Thabo Motoko, Minister Lejone Nkoatjoane, and Attorney General Rapelang Motsieloa are first to third respondents respectively.
Ms Sibolla also submits that when the matter could not be resolved, she was informed that it had been escalated to Lesotho’s Ambassador to Ethiopia, Mafa Sejanamane.
Ms Sibolla says she informed Dr Makara that she would pay for her own rent while the matter was being resolved and that the government would reimburse her in due course.
She says she had also written a memo to Ambassador Sejanamane on 21 January 2023 as she took occupation of the new house without a sub-lease.
“His response on 26 January 2023 was that I should move out and occupy a new house that the government had arranged for me. But I did not even know where this house was, so I stayed put, she says.
“It is evident that there was no attempt through his letter (Sejanamane) to address the issues that were in my memo. However, I was instructed through the said letter that I should move to occupy a house the embassy had secured for me before midday the following day. I aver that this new house had not been shown to me.
“I regard the decision as very harsh and unfair under the circumstances. I am entitled to be involved in securing a house that I am going to live in, and have to accept it,” Ms Sibolla says.
She also submits that the period she was given to vacate the house she had sought for herself was unjustifiably short.
Ms Sibolla says she regarded Ambassador Sejanamane’s decision as irrational and unreasonable. She therefore, wrote him again but her letter was ignored.
She says she nonetheless received a letter from Dr Makara requesting her to show cause why she should not face disciplinary action for refusing to occupy the house that the embassy had directed her to occupy.
“I strongly aver that the decision to initiate the disciplinary process against me on a matter that I have raised grievance on is illegal and vitiates the whole process.
“I aver that the embassy and or PS Motoko had a duty to respond to my two letters and give reasons on why they rejected the complaint I raised.”
Justice Makhetha granted Ms Sibolla an interim order barring the respondents from taking any disciplinary measure against her pending the final determination of her court application.
“The proposed charge of misconduct as per the show cause letter dated 13 February 2023 and the disciplinary process initiated by the respondents through the same letter is hereby quashed and declared unlawful, null and void,” she said.
The case will be heard on 31 March 2023.